The international profile of Knoxville’s Big Ears Festival continues to amaze – as the New York Times once again named the festival one of the top cultural events this season and the edgy London-based musical tastemaker platform, Resident Advisor, selected it as one of the “Top Ten Festivals in the World” this month. As usual, visitors are coming to Knoxville from 48+ states and almost two dozen countries to experience a dazzling array of nearly 150 classical, jazz, rock, bluegrass, folk, and avant-garde concerts spanning 4 days in a dozen venues throughout downtown Knoxville.
This year, the Knoxville Museum of Art is not merely part of the action – but at the center of a “Big Ears takeover” which will transform the space into a dynamic, kaleidoscopic array of music, poetry, talks, films, and installations during the entire festival weekend.
Among the many highlights at KMA:
• Remarkable vocal ensemble, Roomful of Teeth (profiled just a few weeks ago in this New Yorker article), will perform a concert, including work by the Pulitzer Prize winning Caroline Shaw, who is a member of the ensemble.
• The International Contemporary Ensemble will perform a program of new music by three leading composers – including Oak Ridge native Ellen Reid, along with Anna Thorvaldsdottir and Ashley Fure.
• The brilliant trumpeter Nate Wooley will lead a performance of Ashley Fure’s “Library on Lightning” which he performed at the New York Philharmonic’s premiere of Fure’s work back in September. In a separate concert, Wooley will also present two pieces by the very influential and visionary composers, Annea Lockwood and Eliane Radigue.
• Speaking of legends, avant-garde icon Alvin Lucier – who will celebrate his 88th birthday in May – will be joined by the Ever Present Orchestra, Oren Ambarchi, and Stephen O’Malley – for the second Big Ears concert of his extraordinary body of work, which, through its sometimes whimsical, sometimes magical explorations of the nature of sound and acoustics, can open up listeners to a new experience of the world around them.
• “Roedelius Cells” is a sound installation by composer/musician Tim Story, drawing from the rich work of German electronic music pioneer Hans-Joachim Roedelius (known for his work with Cluster, Harmonia, and Brian Eno), which will occupy the Contemporary Gallery on the KMA’s top floor (also the scene of many of the concerts during the weekend)
• Third Man – rock musician Jack White’s record label and book publishing company in Nashville – will present a powerful program of poetry, including Caroline Randall Williams, whose poetry collection of the same name inspired the Nashville Ballet’s Lucy Negro Redux(at the Tennessee Theatre Wednesday and Thursday nights) along with Ciona Rouse(VANTABLACK) and Kendra DeColo (My Dinner with Ron Jeremy) – with some surprise musical guests.
• Films in the Auditorium will include the Japanese cult film, Dragnet Girl, with live musical score by Coupler; Vincent Moon and Priscilla Telmon’s documentary on Old Harp Singing, filmed during Big Ears last year; and Carmine Street Guitars, Ron Mann’s tribute to Rick Kelly’s beautiful handcrafted guitars made from reclaimed wood in his Greenwich Village shop frequented by many of the world’s greatest musicians.
• Nate Chinen, former jazz critic for The New York Times and current scribe for NPR, will discuss the incredible vitality of the modern international jazz scene in a rare reading and improvisation hour focusing on his lauded 2018 book Playing Changes, joined by special guests artists Mary Halvorson, Tomeka Reid and Larry Grenadier.
• Roscoe Mitchell—The Art Ensemble of Chicago cofounder and a linchpin of international improvised music for five decades—leads a free workshop called “COMPOSITION/IMPROVISATION,” open to musicians of all skill levels. Mitchell will lead participants through a discussion and collaborative demonstrations of techniques and theories behind composing in real-time. Musicians should bring their own instruments to participate in this rare, intimate encounter with a musical master. RSVP here.
• And for the fourth year, Knoxville spoken-word impresario and the founder of the series Poboys and Poets, Joseph “Black Atticus” Woods, has curated the Big Ears Poetry Expo: Speak, Poet, featuring some of the Southeast’s most prominent spoken-word voices and promising to be the biggest spoken-word event in Knoxville in years. On Saturday at 7 p.m. in KMA’s Ann & Steve Bailey Hall, award-winning Atlanta poet Quenn Sheeba leads the poetry slam finals. Other confirmed poets on hand include Ryan Andrews, Rhea Sunshine, Dasan Ahanu and Paula Larke with more to be announced.
Expanded Big Ears programming at the KMA is made possible by a generous contribution by Ann & Steve Bailey.
Join us for an unforgettable weekend at the Knoxville Museum of Art!